By Josephine Van Houten
Since the 1780’s, America’s leaders have referred to the country as a ‘melting pot’ of different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. In a country as large as the United States, a shared identity is essential for a sense of unity, however, we should not ignore the religious and ethnic differences that create the diversity we treasure. While the leaders originally intended to unify a country built by immigrants, the metaphor also implies that people in America must assimilate in order to coexist peacefully. This false sense of homogeneity creates a predicament – which group will represent America, and which groups will be excluded?
As world history confirms, from La India Bonita contest in Mexico to Hollywood actors, those with lighter skin generally prevail to represent a nation and its people. To halt the consequences of this light-skin representation, such as marginalization, we must restructure the image of America. The salad bowl metaphor is a more accurate description of America, as the elements of a salad bowl complement rather than imitate each other.
However, the premise behind the ‘melting pot’ has already spread beyond the national level – states are also overgeneralized to fit into a vague category. For example, Florida is the land of retirees. Californians are Surfer-Dudes. New Yorkers are rude. When you think of a ‘typical’ Texan, what comes to mind? A classic Western movie consisting of white men, cowboy hats, and guns? Or perhaps a state full of middle-class Republicans? Would it surprise you to hear that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 55.2% of Texas’ population is a race other than Non-Hispanic White?
The stereotype of white homogeneity in Texas is not only incorrect, but problematic. Those that do not fit the profile of the state lack a sense of belonging as they are not included in the Texas narrative. Despite the actual demographics of, they have become ‘the exception’ of the state: the token Hispanic, or the token African American. Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana writer born in Texas, addressed this concept of invisibility in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza when she says,
“I am visible – see this Indian face – yet I am invisible. I both blind them with my beak nose and am their blind spot. But I exist, we exist.” (page 108)
As Anzaldúa further explains in the book, Chicanos, an ethnic group that has been a part of Texas history since the beginning, is poorly represented despite their vast numbers. In other words, minorities across the state are clearly present, yet are not included in the state narrative. In fact, two Texas cities, Houston and Dallas, are in the Wallethub’s Top 5 of America’s Most Diverse Cities which considers Socioeconomic, Cultural, Economic, Household, and Religious Diversity.
In order to address this discrepancy between stereotype and statistics, we must acknowledge how we view our own state – and unfortunately, we may even be fooling ourselves, especially if we are part of the largest racial and religious groups– white Anglo-Protestants. If you only speak English and you hear a family speaking another language together, do you wonder to yourself where they are from? If you are Christian and you realize a friend is Muslim, do you begin to think of them as foreign? Does it even occur to us that they could be Texas born and raised? Anzaldúa articulated how this issue affects the Chicano community when she said,
“The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view.” (page 44)
As Anzaldúa described, mestizos and other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities are left in an eternal state of isolation. A woman who is Texas born but ethnically Chicana is seen by her American neighbors as foreign, yet Mexico sees her as American. She can never be authentically Texan, and never authentically Hispanic.
The assumptions we make based on race fuel this distorted vision of Texas. In order to include minorities in the Texas narrative, not only must we stop assuming that multicultural people are foreign, but we also must realize that light-skinned people can be foreign – and can be influenced by their ancestors’ roots as well. People of many cultures, many religions, and many backgrounds have been a part of Texas history, and it is time to acknowledge their role in creating this great state. The next time you see someone with a hijab on the street, or a white man in a restaurant, view them as a carrot in the salad, not a drop in our melting pot.